Each of us has a religion and a faith (yes, they are different) influenced by specific life experiences, our station in society, our choice of religions and even specific houses of worship. A question that is rarely asked is “Who influenced you the most and set your religious understanding in place?”
Mariner pondered this question recently. Who had influenced him the most to establish his understanding of religion and faith? He had been a Methodist pastor; he had studied theology in college; he had a father who was a Methodist pastor for fifty years. None of these sources forged mariner’s position regarding religion. True, he is well schooled in Christian/Methodist doctrine; he worked as a probation/parole officer; he served on several state commissions dealing with drug abuse and criminal justice policy. While mariner participated in all these activities, they were pragmatic in nature and not experiences that formed his philosophy and understanding of religion.
Mariner became aware that four writers had shaped his religion: Albert Schweitzer Out of My Life and Thought and The Philosophy of Civilization, Joseph Campbell entire body of work, Paul Tillich Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions, and Reza Aslan God – a human history. Albert was a living example of a righteous life; Joe explained the paleological foundation of spirituality; Paul compared the survivability of religions faced with what he called the quasi-religions similar to communism, fascism, capitalism, etc.; Reza explained the sociologic structure of religion.
Albert Schweitzer. Early in the twentieth century Albert challenged the historical conveniences that interpreted the early Christian movement. With a scholarly method that earned him a Nobel Prize in 1952, Albert brought to light the context of first and second century beliefs that showed early Christians were apocalyptic and expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes. In place of the early, very Jewish expectations and the later orchestrated Christian doctrine, Albert reinforced the importance of a thoughtful and sympathetic life. He adopted his term “reverence for life” as his motto. Importantly, he lived his life according to his faith – something most of us find challenging.
Joseph Campbell. Joe was an anthropologist with an ability to interpret spiritual motivation as an act of human behavior. He studied older cultures as well as modern ones and with great insight gave human definition to spiritual phenomena such as transformation, ascension, and soul. He believed that everyone acts according to a set of myths that provide deeper meaning to one’s life. In Christianity the myth of the Trinity is a central belief that provides spiritual and behavioral value for Christians.
Paul Tillich. Paul’s book focused on the vulnerability of religion as a participant in a power game involving politics, wealth, social precedent and diverse cultural interpretations. He suggests that Baal worship is common, undisciplined and accepted even as one proclaims other religious values. An excellent example is the dollar – money. Money is the false Jesus; money is the route to salvation; money defines our worth and value as a human being – but make no mistake . . . we’re Christians.
Reza Aslan. Reza has traveled the world studying religions. His ability to compare commonality and differences between religions is impressive. Reza’s book, God – a Human History, is a culmination of his career as a theologian and student of our relationships with our god(s). His perspective is highly sociological, to the point that some may find his interpretations of spirituality less than spiritualists may desire. His key insight, if mariner may be so brief, is that God is us. Humans invented religion and needed a sense of self that was above the foibles of daily life – humans need a god exactly like themselves. He states that in every religion, just as in politics, doctrine is a manifestation of power and control. His common example is the holy chamber where one can commune with god but only the priests are allowed in the holy chamber. In Methodism it’s The Book of Discipline. In the Holy Roman Catholic Church, it is the Vatican.
As a footnote, there is one more influence. When mariner was twelve years old he read George Santayana’s abridged Life of Reason. Influenced by the book, Mariner remains a naturalist although his interpretation of religion is shaped by the four authors listed above.
Now it’s the reader’s turn: Who shaped your religion?